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TRAVELING IN STYLE : PRECIOUS MOMENTS : One of Hollywood's greats tells of an addiction for touring that is simply incurable. He's a travel junkie who's happiest on the road. Any road.

March 20, 1988|DON AMECHE | Ameche is a veteran movie, stage and TV actor who won an Academy Award for his performance in "Cocoon."

I am 79 years old. Old if I check my birth certificate. Or when I look in the mirror while shaving. But young when I consider that I am still able to work and to travel--and, oh, how I love to travel!

My first trip abroad was in 1938 and my first stop was England. What better place to begin an adventure? Next, Holland--and a delay when I was taken with appendicitis. The doctor in Utrecht talked back and forth to my doctor in Los Angeles and operated later in the day.

After recuperating I went to the south of France, to Cannes and the Grand, a magnificent hotel that's since been torn down. Earlier, I'd had some exposure to good food and wines but didn't truly appreciate either because I knew too little about them. As a result, I put myself in the hands of the hotel's maitre d'--a fellow name of Felix. For the following five weeks I did not order a single meal, leaving this instead to Felix. Likewise, I had the sommelier select the proper wines. Both Felix and the sommelier were patient; they provided me with explanations of each dish and what went with what and why, including the reasons for choosing a particular wine.

That five weeks has been an influencing force on my life ever since. It created the foundation for an ongoing love affair with food and wines that has remained with me to this day.

Years after my experience with Felix and the sommelier I became master of ceremonies for the TV program, "International Showtime," which necessitated my traveling to Europe and elsewhere in the world four times a year, filming the great circuses and ice shows. Besides allowing me to continue my quest for great food and wine, it was an opportunity to discover destinations that I hold dear to this day. In the process, I developed a love for travel that is simply incurable. I'm addicted--a travel junkie who's happiest on the road. Any road.

In a society that is as complicated and ever changing and and demanding as ours is today, it becomes absolutely necessary to get away, to get a better grip on where we're going in an effort to keep one's sanity and to continue to compete. So for me the always perfect answer is--travel.

This is not a cop-out on my part at all; it is imperative that I escape occasionally. With the whole world available, and with a degree of planning, I can reasonably go almost any place on earth. I am fortunate, I know, and I am grateful for such opportunities. Like others, of course, I have my personal likes and dislikes.

Mine happen to be quite strong which, in my case, is good because I know where I don't want to go. This isn't to imply that I've been everywhere in the world and have no new areas to consider. Not at all. As a matter of fact, there remain towns and little hideaways in countries I've visited many times that I'm still longing to see. Even here at home, much as I've moved about, I haven't even scratched the surface.

My father was born in Italy, in a small village called Montemonaco in the province of Marche. As a result, I have a natural curiosity about Italy. I have traveled extensively through that warm and friendly country, and yet I haven't begun to discover all of its blessings.

From the standpoint of art alone, I know of no other country with Italy's immense collection. I suspect it would take me weeks--months perhaps--to digest the treasures of Florence alone. And what of Rome? And Italy's other marvelous cities?

And then there's Paris--the most beautiful (yes, and romantic) city I know. I'm addicted to all the charms of France, just as I am to Italy's. I read Jeane Kirkpatrick's article in a previous issue of Traveling in Style and I'm a trifle jealous in that she found the one place that completely captivates her. I'm speaking of that gentle and inspiring corner of France, Provence, that attracted not only Van Gogh and Gauguin but, through the centuries, has also been the target of millions of travelers in search of beauty, fine food and wines. My mind turns to Britain and the British themselves. What a totally different philosophy of life they have. And how well it suits their every purpose. I can think of no other city where one can feel so absorbed in a learning atmosphere as in Oxford. Indeed, although I can't put into words what Oxford does to and for me, I expect to relive the experience again and again one of these days.

My travels have taken me through Scandinavia (to Denmark and Norway and Sweden) and to Belgium and Holland and little Liechtenstein. In a single day I inhaled the beauty of Liechtenstein's mountains, strolled beside a peaceful river and sensed the security of the people, all with the knowledge of truly being in a principality.

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